Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Favorite Songs #7: Clubland

This wasn't easy.

It turns out that my favorite Elvis Costello song does not appear on any of my 5 favorite Elvis Costello albums. I tossed around a few and even considered something stupidly obvious, but after thinking a bit longer on what it is I love about EC and The Attractions---the playing, first and foremost---I had to go with "Clubland."

"Clubland" came out of the box sounding like a Costello standard. If you had 10 of the greatest pop songwriters in a room and challenged them to write an Elvis Costello tune, I bet they'd all write a song resembling "Clubland."

To say Elvis Costello, Bruce Thomas, Steve Nieve and Pete Thomas hit a creative peak with "Clubland" seems ridiculous, since so much amazing music followed. "Trust," the 1981 record that features "Clubland" is uneven at best. Yet, the songs that do work, work wonders. Even Nick Lowe's production seems special on just this track. The album is co-produced with Roger Bechirian, so maybe he had something to do with it. No matter. "Clubland" is the one.




Troy said...

I've got no problem with that. I love that song. And I think the album is better than 'uneven at best'. I really like it, especially the duet with Glenn Tilbrook.

Anonymous said...

Very nice choice with Clubland. One of my faves as well.

#1 for me has to be Imperial Bedroom's The Loved Ones, which at just over two and a half minutes, makes it one of those songs that ends far too soon... but then that's what makes it so good. Hey, that could the subject of a post - songs that are great because they end too soon.

Your welcome.


daudder said...

"From a Whisper to a Scream" is also quite fantastic!

Sal Nunziato said...

Maybe "uneven at best" isn't fair. More than half is pretty damn great. The album as a whole just feels like a let down after the first four. But yeah, "Trust" is more than alright.

Honest Ed said...

I always felt it was one of the more unfairly neglected EC albums at the time. Possibly because unlike the other albums if that era, it didn't have a big hit single in the UK,

Clubland is a great tune. But as you say it strays a gnats close to self parody. If its pick his no 1, I'd go for Man Out Of Time. A great tune, just that little hint of self parody but the lyric has a little more depth to it.

Shriner said...

Huh. I'd have to think about this one. That said, "Clubland" -- while a good song -- would never have ever entered my head to be in the running for favorite EC song.

Songs that jump immediately to my head: "God Give Me Strength", "This Year's Girl", "Accidents Will Happen", "Beyond Belief", "You Little Fool".

"God Give Me Strength" is probably my overall favorite EC vocal performance/song -- but it's a co-write.

I *love* the bass lines on TYG and Accidents.

BB and YLF bookend Imperial Bedroom (I ignore Town Cryer) perfectly.

Gun to my head: God Give Me Strength would be what I would put on if I had to pick one.

cmealha said...

I'm surprised that you feel that way about Trust. Sandwiched between "Get Happy!" and "Imperial Bedroom" (I discounted "Almost Blue") may cause some to diminish it but I thought it was fantastic album and didn't even think "Clubland" was the best cut. So many to choose from. The energy of "Lover's Walk" ,"Strict Time" and "Luxembourg" could power a small city. I would think "You'll Never Be a Man" or "Watch Your Step" would be better examples of the Costello style, That's all on side 1 alone. The 1-2 punch of "New Lace Sleeves" and "From a Whisper to a Scream" on side 2 put the album over the top for me. OK "White Knuckles" not so much but he closes it out with 3 songs that show off his strength as a songwriter by being so different and good. It really is one of my faves by him. I could see it not being top 5 because there are so many good albums to choose from but I love it and don't see it as uneven at all. I love it for it's diversity and great arrangements. Elvis and the boys were on fire.

Sal Nunziato said...

I've already pulled back on the "uneven." The thing is , I really DON'T like "Shot With His Own Gun," "Fish N Chip Paper" or "Luxembourg." I think "Watch Your Step" was a weak single. And I find "Lovers Walk" too jittery to enjoy as anything but novelty. On the other hand, "New Lace Sleeves," "You'll Never Be A Man" and "From A Whisper To A Scream" all rank up there with his best.

Noam Sane said...

I've always considered "Taking Liberties" to be the fifth album. Yes, an odds-n'-sods record but full of great stuff. Out of print now, I assume.

If I had to pick an EC fave, it would have to be Lipstick Vogue, turned up to 11.

I'd def go with 'uneven' for every record after Get Happy, but we've already been through that argument.

*bonus hidden gem: My Mood Swings from the Lebowski soundtrack.

Bill said...

Clubland is a wonderful choice. It's a great example of the (maturing) Attractions sound, and the way Nick Lowe brought Elvis' vocals to the front without obscuring the band's contributions is a pretty good trick. [Aside: Nick Lowe doesn't get the credit he deserves.] It also includes one of my favorite Elvis lines: The long arm of the law slides up the outskirts of town

Selecting just one is too tough for me, but here are a couple that have stuck with me over the years:
Human Hands from Imperial Bedroom
Crimes of Paris from Blood and Chocolate ("You never did anything that she couldn't do on her own" is about the most devastating moment of self-realization in any Elvis lyric)
Bedlam from The Delivery Man is a great Imposters record

I've always been a Trust fan. It's not as great as the previous albums, but I loved the production on it, and I rate most of the songs pretty highly (agree on Luxembourg, however).

The performance of Watch Your Step from the Tom Snyder Show is pretty sweet:

buzzbabyjesus said...

Great choice. Mine from that record is: "From a Whisper to a Scream".
I wish there were more songs with Glen.

Dr Wu said...

‘Lipstick Vogue’ :: clever, funny, biting lyrics and a showcase for one of the great bands of all time. Those killer drums!

wardo said...

New Lace Sleeves is my favorite EC tune of all. And it's from this record.

Hey-its Mike said...

Sorry to be late. "Clubland" is a favorite, but for me, the best example of of what EC and mates can do better than anyone else is "I Want You," from Blood and Chocolate (1986).

When I try to explain the appeal of Elvis's work to the unexposed, I talk up that facility with language he has, from Cole-Porter clever (“Don’t put your heart out on your sleeve when your remarks are off the cuff,” he warns in Get Happy's “Riot Act”) to plaintively straightforward (“Why do you talk such stupid nonsense?”—also in “Riot Act”). It’s also the willingness, if not compulsion, to use language as a scalpel to deftly probe to darkest, most painful heartache and horror—whether brought on by betrayal by a lover or, just as often, betrayal of a lover—and render it cathartic, if not beautiful.

Picking up and looking under the rock of our ego to see and name whatever we might find crawling and wriggling beneath it can be a good thing. That power to name things as a way of creating distance from them—this can be a good thing. Unpacking, I think it’s called.

Elvis excels at this. Many songs about heartbreak come from a place of weary resignation, of nursing your pain while you nurse a drink, on a bar stool between Sinatra and maybe Patsy Cline. But Elvis takes on the experience of heartbreak before there's been time for resignation, when there's still only horror and disorientation and disbelief and shock and self-loathing (“what did I do wrong?”), and the phantom-limb ache of some vital part of you that’s no longer there, no longer yours. Elvis Costello like few others can put words to that pain and, by showing its aspects, help you purge it.

Elvis has many songs that work this ground, but to me the best one, the clearest peek at the anguished, angry trapped animal we each could become after we give our heart unwisely, is to be found in “I Want You.” If this was the only performance Elvis had ever done, he’d be worthy of our attention. He has so many other great songs, from across the decades, that this one isn’t much spoken of. It deserves to be.

(And if it sounds too male-stalker creepy in the modern era, listen to the also-powerful version performed by Fiona Apple, with EC on guitar:

KevM said...

Good post, Mike. As are the others here.

I couldn't pick a favourite from his early work but the track that always gets me is Jack Of All Parades. And, to me, there's a set of songs at the end of King Of America and the end of Blood And Chocolate that almost seem part of a whole. From the last four or five of each album, they complement each other so well.